The notion of living self-sufficiently off the land has long been an American ideal, particularly in times of crisis. So it’s no surprise that the turmoil of recent decades— from 9/11 and the breakdown of the financial system to continuous war and the existential threat of climate change—has spurred another such movement.
In FERN’s latest story, published with Virginia Quarterly Review, Michael Meyer takes us inside the National Ladies Homestead Gathering, which Cyndi Ball founded in 2011 at her home in Georgia. The organization has since grown to 34 chapters in 17 states located all across the country, and the goal is someday to have a chapter within 30 minutes of every woman in America.
As Meyer writes, “The women of NLHG are attorneys and nail stylists, city clerks and military veterans, college professors and Christian homeschoolers, climate-change activists and loading-dock workers.” What they have in common is a sense of being “increasingly adrift in a society that had little interest in recognizing or supporting them outside the context of what brand of pork chop they might buy at the grocery store, or which politician they might support. In their lifetimes, women had broken free of the stereotypical homemaker role and become judges, senators, surgeons, professional athletes. They had witnessed a seemingly endless stream of new conveniences—affordable air travel and microwave ovens, cell phones and on-demand everything—each one celebrated as another glorious thread in the tapestry of eternal progress that had always defined the American Experiment.
“Yet for many, all that progress had failed to deliver on its promise of a secure and meaningful life. On the contrary, each year brought new uncertainties, new fears—financial, cultural, environmental. Day-to-day life felt precarious, with ruin just one unlucky break away—a lost job, an illness, an accident. At the same time, the burden for everything, from saving for retirement to figuring out what news and information to trust, was falling increasingly on the individual, with little help from employers or the government. It was hard to escape the sense that, come what may, you were on your own.
“For all these reasons and plenty of others, the women of NLHG felt compelled to seize a measure of control. Piece by piece they set out to learn to perform some of the fundamental tasks that had been delegated to industry: butchering hogs, making soap and medicine, growing food.”